College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Students Simulate U.S. Senate

Rich Forgette, professor and chair of political science, is 45 minutes into teaching a class on the legislative process and has yet to say a word. As a matter of fact, he’s not even the one leading the class. That responsibility falls to Brandon Walters, a senior political science major.

Forgette serves as parliamentarian, but the students run the simulation. “Students draft and amend legislation, work within committees and build large coalitions to figure out areas of compromise,” Forgette said. “We’ve had filibusters and all sorts of politicking going on inside and outside the classroom. Hopefully it increases students’ interest in the real Congress.”

Having worked in both the House and Senate on Capitol Hill, Forgette wanted to bring that experience to his students. According to Walters, Forgette’s approach worked.

“During the simulation, we realized things do not necessarily move in an expeditious manner,” he said. “When things move in the Senate, they typically are molded through careful negotiation and compromise by members.”

To facilitate the simulation, Forgette uses www.legsim.org, or LegSim, an online program developed by John Wilkerson, a professor at the University of Washington. Using the Web site, students post legislation, track votes and establish caucuses.

“We debated bills, amended legislation and voted through LegSim,” Walters said. “We even learned more about our fellow senators’ voting patterns and legislative interests.”

Forgette said he has talked with Wilkerson about a LegSim simulation in which Forgette’s class would be the Senate and Wilkerson’s would be the House of Representatives. “The technology really allows me to extend the borders of the classroom,” he said.

“I learned more about negotiating and compromise through this simulation than I ever dreamed,” Walters said. “There is no way to teach these vital arts through a lecture-style class. The simulation taught me skills that I can carry with me throughout the rest of my life.”